A Bright Sadness: Being and Breath

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

~Emily Bronte from “No Coward Soul is Mine” The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte

There is nothing apart from God,
There is nothing apart from His breath and being.

Not even death sets us apart
in the already, but not yet.

Why then do we struggle to know Him
and to be known?

Our DNA pulses with His image~
our very atoms designed to celebrate and worship Him.

So let us listen, for a change, to our atoms
and blossom richly with His spirit.

It’s time already.


Breath-Formed Change

When, in the cavern darkness, the child
first opened his mouth (even before
his eyes widened to see the supple world
his lungs had breathed into being),
could he have known that breathing
trumps seeing? Did he love the way air sighs
as it brushes in and out through flesh
to sustain the tiny heart’s iambic beating,
tramping the crossroads of the brain
like donkey tracks, the blood dazzling and
invisible, the corpuscles skittering to the earlobes
and toenails? Did he have any idea it
would take all his breath to speak in stories
that would change the world?
~Luci Shaw “Breath”


Breath created the world
by forming the Words
that tell the stories
that change everything and us.

We rest in that breath today,
sighing in Sabbath.

Our Wings Ruffled

Birds afloat in air’s current,
sacred breath?  No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It’s we who breathe, in, out, in, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled — but only the saints
take flight.  We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest.  The wind
marks the passage of holy ones riding
that ocean of air.  Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storms or still, 
numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.
~Denise Levertov “In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

God reminds us when we are at our most anxious and needy:
He cares for the birds and feeds them, lifts their wings in the wind and their feathered down keeps them warm. He gives them air to ride upon and air to breathe.

If them, then He cherishes us as well.

We too breathe in, breathe out, ruffled and fluffed, surrounded by the air we need and the air that lifts us. Lacking down, it is His breath keeping us warm.

Encompassed.

The Interior of the Soul

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There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.
~Victor Hugo

 

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What possibly can be grander than the depths and wildness of the ocean or the expanse of clouds and stars above us?  Our breath is taken away by the sea and the sky — always and every time.

Yet that breath was given to us, breathed into our very soul by the living God in His desire to create us in His image.

That is grand beyond imagining.  His breath within us, filling the interior of our souls.

 

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A Residual Celestial Heat

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“Somehow the question of identity is always emerging on this farm. I found the body of a barn swallow lying just inside the barn the other day. There was no telling how it died. I noticed the intense particularity of its body, its sharply cut wings, the way its plumage seemed to glow with some residual celestial heat. But it was the particularity of death, not the identity of life, a body in stillness while all around me its kin were twittering and swooping in and out of the hayloft.”
~Verlyn Klinkenborg from “A Swallow in the Hand”

 

 

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Stumbling across death on the farm is always startling.  The farm teems with life 24 hours a day: frogs croaking, dawn bird chorus, insects buzzing and crawling, cats stalking, coyotes yipping, raccoons stealing, dogs wagging, horses galloping, owls and bats swooping.  Amid so much activity, it doesn’t seem possible that some simply cease to be.

An ancient apple tree mysteriously topples over one morning, a beloved riding horse dies of colic, another dies of lymphoma, an old cat finds her final resting place in the hay loft, another old cat naps forever under a tree,  a newborn foal fails to break free of its amniotic sac, another foal delivered unexpectedly and prematurely lies still and lifeless in the shavings of the stall, a vibrantly alive dog is put to sleep due to a growing tumor,  an old dog passes during an afternoon nap, a predator raids the dove cage and leaves behind carnage, our woods bears its own tragic history.

Yet, as often as it happens,  there is a unique particularity about the end of life.  The stillness of death permits a full appreciation of who this individual is, the remarkable care that went into creating every molecule of its being.

The sudden presence of absence is a stark and necessary reminder of what I myself want to leave behind.

In truth, we will glow with residual celestial heat, still warm even after our hearts cease to beat.  We are distinct individuals in our own particularity:  living and dying at a particular time and place as a unique creature, given a chance in the cosmos of infinite possibilities.  The Creator knit us together specially, every feather, hair, bone and sinew a unique work of His Hands, and what we do with what we are given is the stuff between our first God-given breath and our last, handed back to Him.

May we not squander our particular role in the history of the world.

 

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Like a Feather

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My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
~T.S. Eliot from A Song for Simeon

 

 

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Often we feel heavy, so burdened,
weighted down, waiting for what may never come:
yet truly our life is light as a feather,
only dust and memory,
a mere breath could carry us away in a moment
and will…
and we will know peace.

 

 

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This Trembling Globe

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How I loved those spiky suns, 
rooted stubborn as childhood 
in the grass, tough as the farmer’s 
big-headed children—the mats 
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. 
How sturdy they were and how 
slowly they turned themselves 
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars 
barely visible by day, pale 
cerebrums clinging to life 
on tough green stems.   Like you. 
Like you, in the end.   If you were here, 
I’d pluck this trembling globe to show 
how beautiful a thing can be 
a breath will tear away. 
~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother” from Innocence
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This is how I remember my mom at the end:
fragile, trembling,
a wispy white crown of hair,
clinging stubbornly to what was left of life
with roots that went so deep
there was no pulling them out.
Yet it only took that one last breath,
one quiet will-there-be-another
breath
to blow her away.
And she left us behind,
clinging stubbornly to those roots.
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